Podcast: Not your usual permits

James Hart
Illustration of man in front of forest and animals

 

Transcript


Jim Hart:

Welcome to the BLM Alaska Frontiers podcast, I'm Jim Hart. Permitting on public lands often brings to mind multi-million dollar energy projects where environmental analysis alone can take years. Or perhaps an event like Burning Man, where tens of thousands of people might gather for a few days in the desert. But permits aren't always huge, and in Alaska, some of them are rather unique.

Today, we're talking with Tom Sparks, the acting Anchorage Field Office manager for BLM Alaska. Tom, thanks for joining us to fill us in on the mystery of permits.

 

Tom Sparks:

Well, my pleasure.

 

Jim Hart:

How long you've been working for BLM now, Tom?

 

Tom Sparks:

I've been with BLM since 2003.

 

Jim Hart:

I bet you've seen some interesting permit applications come across your desk over that time.

 

Tom Sparks:

Oh, yes. There's there've been a number of authorizations in that span of time. Absolutely.

 

Jim Hart:

So, what's your favorite permit that you've worked?

 

Tom Sparks:

I think an interesting one I had early on in my career was an individual in Nome requested authorization to harvest some Christmas trees. He had seen some trees for sale at a local grocery store and thought they were expensive and that they came from the Lower 48. So, he came to the office and asked for an authorization, and he actually proposed to harvest them using his Super Cub and tie them on to the struts of the Super Cub. So we did a NEPA analysis and had to reach out to the state office in terms of, you know, the cost involved of harvesting trees, and so it's a very interesting one. And, you know, you kind of livened up some, some local people in town because we, we don't have any trees in Nome.

It's a tundra plain, so there isn't any timber, except for about 80 miles northeast of Nome. And so that was a bit unusual.

And something that's very, I would say, unique, not unusual, but maybe unique to the Seward Peninsula where I live in Nome is the reindeer grazing permits. That's the only grazing that the bureau authorizes in Alaska. And there are 15 reindeer herds that are authorized currently. So, it's very unique to northwest Alaska, specifically.

And I think one other one that was good was the first broadband initiative to Northwest Alaska was something that I was involved in, in terms of the authorization. So it's not, I guess, unusual to the BLM as far as permitting, but it was the first initiative to bring broadband to Northwest Alaska.

So, it was pretty exciting in terms of that opportunity.

 

Jim Hart:

What kinds of things do people need permits for?

 

Tom Sparks:

Well, we do have in the regulations some definitions of casual use, but I like to keep it simple. If you're doing commercial activities or making money on federal lands, you generally need a permit. We do a variety of multiple-use things, so we do timber harvesting, we have some reindeer grazing permits out on the Seward Peninsula, it's a little unique.

We do rights of ways for roads and pipelines and those types of things. And we also do special recreation permits, primarily out in the west. It's big-game guiding occurring on federal lands. The best way I like to explain is we can authorize almost anything that's not illegal under federal laws.

Kind of keep it really succinct and short. People understand that.

 

Jim Hart:

So getting a permit sounds daunting. How easy is it to apply?

 

Tom Sparks:

Well, it's relatively easy. You know, I'd just encourage folks to contact their local BLM office to discuss the proposal that they have. We actually have some permit applications [for them] to complete, but we review land use plans and our regulations with individuals who are proposing the activity on federal land. So, you know, the local office is a good place to start that dialog with an authorization.

 

Jim Hart:

I understand the BLM works closely with the state on certain permits. Can you shed some light on that?

 

Tom Sparks:

Yes, we do. There's a checkerboard pattern of land status in the state, so sometimes an authorization that comes before the Bureau of Land Management will cross jurisdictional boundaries with the state of Alaska. And also, there are lands that are still selected by the state of Alaska. And if those lands are selected, we're required under ANILCA to obtain the state of Alaska's concurrence on any permit authorization.

So, both of those instances, we do coordinate very closely with the state of Alaska.

 

Jim Hart:

And for everyone listening, ANILCA is the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act. So Tom, where should people go to get more information?

 

Tom Sparks:

Well, I think the best place to go is the local BLM office. They're very familiar with the lands and the land-use plans that are applicable to the areas, and they can discuss the processing of an application or a proposal that one may have. We do have a lot of information available online, but I think stopping by the local office would be the best place, I believe, to go.

 

Jim Hart:

Well, it sounds like BLM has got a lot going on when it comes to permits. Thanks for coming on, Tom.

 

Tom Sparks:

Well, I appreciate the opportunity.

 

Jim Hart:

That's it for this Frontier's podcast. Be sure to go to the BLM, Alaska website under the programs tab to find out more about permitting. We'll have the link in the transcript for this program.  The Frontiers podcast is a production of the BLM Alaska Office of Communications.